I sat down on the plush, green chair and tried to relax. A mountain climber hanging over the precipice of a girly girl day.
My internal voice instructed: “Listen to the soothing music, appreciate the hot tea, marvel at the artwork and take in the soft vanilla candle.”
Instead, I nervously retightened the white terry cloth robe and squished my feet in the spongy rubber sandals. I wasn’t fooling anyone, including the stone Buddha staring down on me or the spa attendant who kept assuring me it was OK to use the steam room or Jacuzzi — really. Now way outside my paddle-board-mountain-bike comfort zone, I couldn’t stop fidgeting in the Spa Estique day spa in Pinetop.
Instead of tackling a trail, my editor had sent me to experience the finer things and report back.
I picked up a book from a marble table titled “Love” and scanned it for inspiration: “Take a chance,” it admonished. Does that include spas?
As it turns out, my Pinetop weekend revealed a whole sequence of women who had taken a chance, including a yoga instructor and teahouse owner, who had gambled everything to live out a dream.
Then a spa employee summoned me, ending the moment of relaxing terror.
She led me down a dim corridor, past a fountain and into another immaculately decorated room. I tucked myself into a warm cocoon of fuzzy blankets on the massage table and the soft-spoken woman promptly slathered cool goo on my face.
Last time I’d had a mud bath was running the Mogollon Monster race at the Payson Event Center, covered head to toe in horse manure mud. This smelled a whole lot better
Above me, a starry chandelier twinkled and a steam machine directed plumes of water vapor.
After the woman had deftly misted, wiped, massaged and plucked my face back into shape, an attendant whisked me back into the women’s-only relaxation room, a new addition at the spa, which opened at 1746 E. White Mountain Boulevard in August.
Just as sophisticated as any Scottsdale spa, Spa Estique felt smaller and more intimate. From the fixtures to the towels, everything was new and wrapped in luxury — but at half the price of a ritzy Scottsdale spa.
I mustered the courage to try the steam room, then the private Jacuzzi, having no idea how to work the knobs. On my way out, I gave tips from a mother-daughter team on working the hot tea machine.
Was I starting to like this?
A few blocks down the street waited Open Spaces Yoga, which Lauran Barnert-Hosie and her husband opened on a whim years ago. A certified Iyengar yoga instructor, Barnert-Hosie offers several classes in the small, brightly lit studio.
I entered cautiously, wondering if I’d find myself surrounded by advanced yoginis expert in impossible contortions. Trying to shusssh the voices in my head, I focused on a cheerful Buddha statue in the corner. “Ommmm” I whispered experimentally. Buddha only looked at me blankly.
Barnert-Hosie explained each pose, twisting and folding herself effortlessly into them. I stood in the back of the class, trying to blend into the green mat. Turning my front leg and bending the knee, I mimicked the painted poses on the front wall.
Barnert-Hosie smiled patiently and said I needed to get in touch with my body — put some effort into the pose.
I sunk deeper, waiting for my leg to pop off. A wind chime chided me. Um, om, om… I tried to relax. Remarkably, my body steadied.
Barnert-Hosie demonstrated a headstand, one of the more challenging poses.
She asked if anyone else was game. No one volunteered.
To my own surprise, I stood, unaccountably brave in my “Embrace your Inner Geek 5k Race” t-shirt. I tucked my head into my hands and Barnert-Hosie lined up my legs.
“Now push off your elbows and let your head hang,” she said.
Like magic, I lifted up.
The women clapped. I swelled with pride (or was that the blood rushing to my head?). I stumbled back to my mat and fell effortlessly into shavasna, the final pose of class. Wait, did I just stop thinking?
Although tiny, Barnert-Hosie exuded confidence. “We begin to feel yoga’s influence vibrate throughout our life experience bringing a new palate of colors to the world around us and to our core,” according to the studio’s Web site.
Tingling with good vibes, I headed off to The Cottage Tea House for a new palate of tastes. Like the rest of the day, the place amazed me.
Similar to Payson, Pinetop has long struggled to get people to stop, relax and spend money on their way to the hiking trails, lakes and campgrounds. Turns out, Pinetop has started to develop some of the distinctive businesses and experience needed. With weekend temperatures expected to top 100 here, but barely hitting 90 there, it’s worth noting that in some ways Pinetop is to Payson what Payson is to Phoenix.
Both Payson and Pinetop are working now to create local treasures behind the highway frontage — places locals know about and visitors seek. For Pinetop, The Cottage Tea House is one of those places.
Open since March, the small restaurant, with rows of potted red geraniums on the front porch and delicate doilies on each table, has been busy ever since.
Owner Yvonne Rojas, with wispy blonde hair and soft eyes, explains she modeled the eatery after her favorite places around the world. She makes nearly all the food in-house, including a five-layer chocolate chip and banana cake with cream cheese frosting that takes a butcher knife to cut.
“We pride ourselves on making everything from scratch using high quality ingredients,” she said.
As we sipped blush pink tea in wine glasses, I felt spoiled — just what Rojas intended. “I tell people to get ready to be spoiled,” she said. “It is all about customer service.”
Recently, a grandmother hosted a party at the teahouse for her grandson who had just returned from service. Although the restaurant is decidedly feminine, with chic touches everywhere, including adorable signs that read “Be YOU (tiful),” the family gathered. They ended up staying for hours and hugging the staff before leaving.
I imagine going from a war zone to the teahouse, with its heavenly white interior, is like landing on a pillow.
Come to think of it, I had finally started to relax myself. I had written Pinetop off as nothing more than a stop over on the way to skiing Sunrise or hiking some trail. But like Payson, it had surprised.
And I had surprised myself: I guess there is a girly girl in there after all.
IF YOU GO
The Cottage Tea House
1213 E. White Mountain Blvd.
My Lil Bakery
476 W. White Mountain Blvd., #10
The calming treats:
Open Spaces Yoga studio
476 W. White Mountain Blvd., #12
1746 E. White Mountain Blvd.